Saturday, June 11, 2005

Philistines with a capital "F" - Reading My Work at A.D.D. National Park

Matt St. Amand, as a person and an artist, has gone the way of sliver plastic workout suits, spray-on hair, and the Grapefruit-45 diet. I'm a cooper in the land of Tupperware. A blacksmith setting up shop next to Dow Chemical. A soothsayer in a land where nobody gives a shit about sooth anymore.

A writer amid A.D.D.-Ritalin-Wal-Mart Nation is but a shade, the last quiver of laughter following a bad joke, a ghost of a ghost.

This evening I read from my book Homunculus at Starbucks, where an "Evening of the Arts" was held. The moment I arrived, I sensed the vibe was all wrong. It was clearly a musical event under the guise of a "come one, come all" put on. No harm, that's just what it was. The band that played for the entire first hour was actually quite good. "Happy Birthday" was later sung to the bassist who turned seventeen years of age today. I own pairs of underwear older than that.

When my time before the audience arrived, I was graciously introduced as a "spoken word artist," and received dutiful, reflexive polite applause as I moved to the microphone, which was set for someone the height of Joe Pesci. In the moment it took to adjust the microphone, I lost the crowd. I've spent too much time at home, too much time being the Great Canadian Indoorsman, too much time away from TV, to realize that much of the public's attention span has evaporated like tears in a desert. Instant gratification is now pared down to the micro-seconds. Pause -- and you're done.

Conversations erupted everywhere, as though I were reading in a movie theater showing a Richard Gere movie. I read from my non-fiction piece Xavier Lipshitz & William Zuma, which has proven quite popular with readers as well as audiences at readings. I couldn't get it off the ground. It was like reading on the Log Ride at Cedar Point. I wish there had been some outright hostility, something more than poor manners and confusion on the part of my audience, at which to lash out. I ended up stopping before the proper end, uttering a wan thanks, and removing myself from the front of the room. It was horrible.

(And it was the kind of abortive evening where one of the guys working behind the counter was someone with whom my wife attended high school. She pointed him out to me tonight and said that I had met him once before. I didn't recognize him. Then she said, "He was the guy from HMV." That's all that needed to be said. A few years ago my wife and I were at HMV. I was off looking at something, and when I caught up to her, she was talking to this guy. As I approached, my wife turned in my direction and said, "Here's my husband, now." To which the guy looked right over my shoulder, right past me, and said with absolutely no purposeful zing, "Where?" I still laugh over that story to this day. My wife was a well-sought-after lass in secondary school, and I am slovenly, graying, and improbable.)

So, yeah, I felt sorry for myself. Was disappointed. Just wanted to get home to my cat, whose indifference at least has a certain flare, style, and homey charm.

And I cannot fault the venue this evening. It was what it was. When I expressed interest in the event days before, I had the distinct impression it was shaping up to be a purely musical event. After explaining that I'm a writer and would be reading my work, the guy behind the counter (a different guy from the HMV guy) went sort of blank, then said, "Yeah, sure, come on by." But I knew! I knew! I knew! Christ, the bassist turned seventeen today. My Mac Classic computer is almost that old.

No, tonight, I was a man with a flea circus standing before an audience expecting the dancing clown from Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I was performing card tricks for dogs (to quote Tom Waits), doing yoga for a roller derby crowd, spinning pizza dough in the air before sushi patrons, serving hand-squeezed ice cream to the lactose intolerant.

Tonight I stood before a crowd of people and attempted to express ideas within a satirical cast, and never in the longest time have I felt so abominably alone.

A pillar of salt.

     A station wagon.

          The Monday morning following Woodstock.

               Pete Best.

                    Inventor of the Flowbee.

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